Autonomy: Empowering the Individual to Do Their Best Work

autonomy is choosing your path

Autonomy is the power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best. Some people feel stifled in their jobs. In fact, 34 percent of employees say they can’t speak up for fear of negative consequences. Autonomy at work doesn’t mean “no rules and free reign.” We all work under guidelines. But when we understand our parameters and have the freedom to do our best work, we are more creative, innovative, passionate, and, ultimately, have higher levels of productivity.

Misconceptions of Autonomy

In my experience, when you talk about autonomy at work to managers or the C-Suite, often they hear anarchy. Increased autonomy certainly isn’t anarchy. We can give people the freedom to choose how to do their best work without completely removing accountability or regulations and process. Those things can still be observed, and in fact should be observed, to create proper autonomy. It’s more about empowering the individual to do their best work.

Trust and Autonomy

Trust is foundational for employee engagement, especially for the autonomy component of engagement. If we don’t trust people, then we are going to micromanage. We are going to always be watching them and trying to control them. We will treat them more like pieces of a machine rather than a whole, complete person, bringing all of their talents and abilities to the role. Micromanagement limits their ability to contribute and stay engaged if trust isn’t found in the workplace.

woman engaging in her job

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivational Factors

You can get into a virtuous cycle with autonomy and motivation. In my current role I have a lot of autonomy, and for me, it is very motivating. Basically, the organization is saying, “We trust you to make good decisions, to do good work, and to impress us with your contribution.” It motivates me to step into that space and explore ways to build and grow our business and add value that our clients with our methodologies and thought leadership.

When I step in and contribute, then the organization usually says, “Wow. That’s great. Here is greater autonomy.” And because I get more autonomy, it is more motivating. I want to do more and grow. That freedom, or that trust, that vote of confidence that the organization gives me, actually triggers something inside of me; an intrinsic motivation to contribute, to do more, to explore, and increase productivity. It’s why I love what I do.

The opposite is true. If we restrict workplace autonomy we also limit the invitation to the employee. If we take away some of that freedom to do their best work, we are basically limiting how much we are inviting them to contribute, so we are going to get less out of them. It’s going to be less rewarding for the organization and for the employee.

Autonomy and Accountability

How do we balance autonomy at work with accountability? Getting that balance right is something critical for every manager. Clarity and transparency is the best approach. Organizations should say, “Let’s have clear expectations for success. Let’s also be transparent around where we have constraints.”

For example, an accounting department has laws and procedures it is required to follow. When we talk about an autonomous workplace, we aren’t talking about “let’s go break all the rules,” but rather “let’s be transparent about the constraints we have to work around.” Where do we have regulations? Where do we have limiting factors outside of our control? And then what can I, as a manager, and you as an employee do to give you leeway within the structure around us for you to do your best work.

With autonomy, there is transparency around the environment we are working in and the expectations for success in hitting metrics and providing for clients. It requires having a real open conversation around what we are working with and where they have room to explore their best work.

Autonomy as a Driver of Employee Engagement

I work with a software client on the east coast who has done a great job of not focusing too much on process. They’ve got all those things you need to have operational efficiency, such as following best practices, but that is not their focus. Their focus is always on the customer. They keep coming back to, “What are we doing for the customer? The customer. The customer!” Everyone understands that common purpose and they’ve also provided everyone with the autonomy at work to meet the objective. If I am in a programming role, I don’t need to go through six levels of red tape to do something custom for my customer. I have leeway to serve the customer because that is the point on the horizon that all are swimming towards.

They’ve done a great job creating a singular view of what success looks like and then saying, “Now go out and do it and we will do our best to support you. But in many ways, we are not going to get in your way as you go out and serve the customer.”

We have worked with this organization for a number of years and have seen them progressively improve in a number of areas, including overall engagement.  They are in that cycle of inviting employees to do their best work and employees meeting that challenge. Each year the trust increases, and job performance improves.

meeting autonomy

Measuring and Assessing Autonomy

There are a number of ways to measure how well your organization is doing with providing autonomy to your employees. Obviously, I am a fan of surveys. With an annual survey, you are asking your employees questions around trust and autonomy. We have several that are very effective at measuring and improving autonomy at work, among other things.

You could also do an informal audit where you walk around and look at how and when people are working.

Look for evidence with exit interviews or exit surveys. We often do exit surveys for our clients and we can find insights like, “I’m leaving not because of compensation, not because of this or that, but because I can’t do what I need to do here for my customer, or for myself.”

Symbols of Distrust

If you’ve had more of a trained eye, you can also look for symbols of distrust. Are you using surveillance cameras to track how long people go on break? If you are, ask why are you doing that, and is there another way to approach that? You want to run an organization, not a prison. Some symbols of distrust can be pretty extreme. In addition to cameras, I’ve also seen organizations use GPS in their company vehicles to track if their people are taking the most direct routes to get to places. I understand there are usually reasons organizations start doing these things, but they can quickly go down a path of distrust in the work environment that constricts autonomy and limits what employees can bring to the role.

What Impact Does Autonomy Have on Engagement Overall?

The 5 keys of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® (meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection), all relate to and feed off each other. Back to the example of the software company, they’ve said, “our meaning is in our customer.” Great. That’s meaning. How do we support that? Well, we need to give people autonomy to do that. They will get a greater sense of purpose if we set that clear meaning out upfront, reinforce it, and empower them to pursue it and to fulfill our mission.

It also helps employees recognize individual impact. If I have the freedom to do that type of work, to be in charge of my own success, suddenly my sense of impact grows. In the book, we talk about different kinds of autonomy. For example, social autonomy. “Do I get to choose who I work with on my team? Do I get to leverage resources in the organization as I need them?” The connection piece also comes into play, as well as growth. “Am I challenging myself and is the organization supportive and encouraging me to do that?”

My autonomy, my role, has directly tied to my growth. I get to go out and try things that are outside of my comfort zone. The organization supports that and helps me pursue some of those things.

Finally, it’s an ecosystem; it’s a balance. Autonomy is key. I think that’s less obvious to many organizations.  We know people want to grow, we know we need to have a clear vision, and some purpose in our work, and connection; all these things are important. But sometimes creating a workplace culture of autonomous employees falls by the wayside. We don’t realize that people need some license and trust to go out and do the work as they see fit. They need feedback, encouragement, accountability; but they really need their space and flexibility to do their best work.

Listen to the podcast recording on autonomy.

Further reading: “Is Autonomy Important In Your Job? They Think So.”

Consider surveying your employees to see how autonomy is impacting overall engagement.

Podcast: Autonomy – Empowering the Individual to do their Best Work

autonomy to choose the way you work

What impact does autonomy have on engagement? How do we balance autonomy with accountability? What role does trust play in creating autonomy?

In this Engaging People Podcast episode, Christian Nielson, Principal Consultant at DecisionWise, addresses these questions and more in an insightful conversation around autonomy, one of the 5 keys of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®.

Autonomy is the power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best. Some people feel stifled in their jobs. In fact, 34 percent of employees say they can’t speak up for fear of negative consequences. Autonomy doesn’t mean “no rules and free reign.” We all work under guidelines. But when we understand our parameters, and have the freedom to do our best work, we are more creative, innovative, passionate and, ultimately, more effective.

Is Autonomy Important In Your Job? They Think So.

is autonomy important in your job?

“Control leads to compliance; AUTONOMY leads to engagement.” ­––Daniel Pink

Is autonomy important in your job and does it promote employee engagement? According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for  Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Autonomy is the second key to employee engagement in the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® formula, Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection.


Autonomy, as it relates to work, is: The power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best.

That’s Not Autonomy; That’s Lack of Leadership

Despite this clear definition, there are a lot of misconceptions about autonomy. Autonomy is NOT:

  • Working in isolation. Being autonomous doesn’t give a person the right to work without supervision or collaborators.
  • It’s not doing whatever you like whenever you like. In an organization with high levels of autonomy, the employer defines the boundaries of the employee’s control and decision-making power.
  • It’s not working without a net. Autonomous employees receive strong, clear guidance from supervisors, established procedures, manuals, and so on. Employees shouldn’t be left to figure things out on their own. That’s not autonomy; that’s lack of leadership.

Autonomy is not about leaving people alone. Employees typically don’t want to be left alone. They want clear directions, rules, and expectations. In other words, hire GOOD people, give them what they need to do their jobs well, and get out of their way.

Is autonomy important to you and your job?

Here are some real-world employees that find autonomy to be essential in creating true employee engagement:

Bryan Clayton, GreenPal

As CEO of GreenPal, the Uber for Lawn Care, I recommend never telling people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. That is one of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton:

“To empower and get the most of your teammates you’ll need to outline what the big picture objective is and then get out of their way and let them show you they can do it.”

Last year we had a new hire that we placed in a similar situation. Online reviews are a big part of our platform’s success. Our new customer experience manager was tasked with getting new online reviews for our company. I started to outline my ideas for tactical ways to do this, but then I realized that I wanted him to own the project. I simply told him that the objective was to get 20 new reviews for every city in which we operate.
Well as it turns out he was a big dog lover.

He came up with the idea of placing into our sign-up process a questionnaire about what kinds of pets our customers have. He then studied that data and mailed each of those customers a thank you note along with a one dollar dog bone.

The response was tremendous, and our online reviews came pouring in, and we also got some great social media coverage out of as well with our customers sharing the card, and treats to their Instagram Facebook pages.

Put your people in positions where they get to own the results and If they are unable to deliver, then odds are you don’t have the right person on your team anyway. This is especially critical for employees for small businesses as the first 2-10 teammates you high will make a break or success.

Julie Ozlek, Soom Foods

As a new member of the startup tahini company, Soom Foods, the owners have given me the freedom to develop my role, skills, and relationships within this position. Whether it be creating social media copy and collateral, writing blog posts on our website, analyzing metrics, or working with third-parties, they allow me to work autonomously because they trust my thought-process through my holistic understanding of the brand and the company’s goals. Not only does this sense of autonomy shine within my role, but also amongst all the other employees at Soom.

Steven Benson, CEO of Badger Mapping

Everyone at Badger Mapping, even interns, is encouraged to join whatever projects they’re most interested in. We have the projects that we have to get done, and I basically let people gravitate towards the areas where they want to contribute. Because people choose to run the projects and take responsibility for them, it’s up to them to make sure they build the team and get people’s help to complete the project.

For example, one intern was interested in HR and came up with a complete strategy and HR program. She built it from the bottom up and launched it on her own. She was given autonomy to make all decisions in terms of how it should be set up and what it should contain while I was only there for guidance if she had any questions or concerns.

Every Monday at our company, we have a full team meeting for 15 minutes, and everyone who is running a project will update the group on where things are at and ask people for help where they need it. People then join the projects they want to join, even if it’s different than their job description. If an engineer or an engineering intern wants to get involved in a marketing project, they’re encouraged to do so. If a salesperson or sales intern wants to get involved in a QA project, the same thing––I want them to do it.

Getting people to work with and understand different parts of the company is good for their development and good for employee engagement in the company. This type of autonomy gives people the experiences that build empathy for other parts of the organization and helps the whole company function better. I really believe that when you give employees autonomy, they dig deep and find the best version of themselves.

Without Trust, Autonomy Doesn’t Exist

One quality that each of these examples have in common is TRUST. Without trust, autonomy is impossible and trust is earned, but supervisors need to learn to stop “running the machine” and let employees do their work.

How to Promote Autonomy

So, what can a leader do to promote autonomy and employee engagement in his/her organization?

  • Grant employees ownership over projects.
  • Create an environment that offers both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators (Read the book) 
  • Provide your people with tools and resources they need to reach your goals and theirs.
  • Show your people you trust them and get out of the way and let them do their thing.

Once employees have a taste of true autonomy, they won’t want to give it up. So, tread carefully if attempting to take it away. It will be a surefire employee engagement killer.

Read how 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
Read how these companies promote GROWTH opportunities to their employees.
Read how these employees see IMPACT in their jobs.
Read how these employees find CONNECTION in their jobs.

Creating an Autonomy Culture to Increase Employee Engagement

man autonomously working on iPad

Autonomy can be one of the most powerful pro-engagement factors for an organization. Creating an autonomy culture is crucial for employee engagement to flourish. If you’re starting from scratch in the kind of company where employees feel compelled to look over their shoulders at all times, begin by figuring out the level and type of autonomy that your people want. Are they most interested in spatial or temporal autonomy, which you can provide by allowing telecommuting or exploring scheduling possibilities? Or are they after something more esoteric, as in the respondents to a Fortinet survey in which more than 50 percent said they viewed using their own mobile devices at work as a right, rather than a privilege?1 Know what kind of autonomy matters to your workforce before you offer it.

The design and architectural firm Gensler, which has designed work spaces for such clients as the World Bank and Virgin Mobile, has found through internal research that giving employees more control over their physical environment leads to optimal performance. Their 2013 employee survey showed that employees given more control over where, when, and how to work had higher levels of innovation, satisfaction, and job performance. They also found that technology workers in “open” offices (where furniture can be reconfigured and there are few privacy barriers) actually focus better than those in traditional office configurations.2

Autonomy and the Feeling of Ownership

Having the autonomy to design a physical space—cubicle, office, work van, an area of the plant floor, even a jail cell—engenders in the employee a sense of ownership. He or she immediately does the equivalent of marking his or her territory. It’s a way of telling others, “This is my space.” Researchers at the University of Exeter School of Psychology studied more than two-thousand office workers and found that those who had control over the layout of their work space were 32 percent more productive than counterparts who lacked that control.3 That’s a meaningful difference that impacts the bottom line.

With ownership, one also claims responsibility (and the inherent accountability) for space, task, role, or assignment. Ownership is a powerful factor in creating engagement. Grant employees ownership.

Making Autonomy Meaningful

Make the autonomy you offer meaningful and authentic. The more potential risk a type of autonomy carries for the organization, the more meaningful it is to the employee. In other words, giving employees the freedom to decorate their cubicles while directing their team activities with an iron4 ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® fist means nothing. It’s an insult. Meaningful autonomy, at times, may mean that the boss trusts you with something that has the potential to embarrass the organization, or cost it money . . . making you much more likely to handle with care.

4 Ways to Create an Environment for Autonomy Culture

  1. Create an environment that offers both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators can be as straightforward as performance incentives, an extra afternoon off, or profit-sharing. Intrinsic motivators demand more subtlety but can be evoked by measures that attach meaning and purpose to the work, training that fosters the desire for excellence, and other tactics that align work with positive feelings. Effective autonomy empowers employees to tap into the meaning that underlies their work. For instance, allowing an employee with small children to work from home three days a week can connect her to one of the reasons she’s working so hard—the welfare of her family—and help her be a more committed, inspired employee.
  2. Next, structure broad goals, desired outcomes, and general boundaries but allow your people to determine everything else about how they reach those goals. Let them do things their way as long as they behave and operate appropriately within the context of key relationships—and as long as they deliver. Also, create clear accountability systems that remind employees they can come and go like the wind, and dye their hair green, only as long as at the end of the quarter they have hit or surpassed their benchmarks.
  3. Provide your people with the tools and resources they need to reach your goals and theirs. Training, technology, new faces, whatever it takes. Again, this is about trust, saying, “I’m willing to invest in you and your ideas because I believe you’ll make it worthwhile.
  4. Finally, once you’ve done all this, get out of the way, and let people do their thing. If you hire people who want to give 110 percent and put them in an 85 percent environment, you’ll do your organization greater harm than by hiring 85-percenters in the first place.

Don’t grant autonomy if you as a manager aren’t prepared to follow through. Keep in mind that once employees have a taste of true autonomy, they won’t want to give it up. We’ll watch Yahoo! and see how this real-time experiment in taking away autonomy plays out.

  1. MAGIC Whitepaper

1 Ellen Messmer, “Young Employees Say BYOD a ‘Right’ Not ‘Privilege,’” CIO, June 19, 2012.
2 Gensler, 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey
3 Craig Knight and S. Alexander Haslam, “Your Place or Mine? Organizational Identification and Comfort as Mediators of Relationships Between the Managerial Control of Workspace and Employees’ Satisfaction and Well-Being,” British Journal of Management 21, no. 3 (2010).
4 H. A. Simon and W. G. Chase, “Skill in Chess,” American Scientist 61, (1973): 394–403; D. K. Simonton, “Philosophical Eminence, Beliefs, and Zeitgeist: An Individual-Generational.”

Two Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout and Stay Engaged at Work

Disengaged Female Millennial Employee

Walking the line between engagement and burnout can be tricky.  After all, just how much discretionary effort is too much?    Maybe consider this a warning: if we’re not careful, even the best employees can experience burnout.
In fact, I almost experienced burnout this week for myself.  Work has been getting exponentially busier at our office, with new projects and deadlines rounding every corner—and I love it.  When the time came for a colleague to ask for my help on her project, I felt badly telling her no.    Usually, my multiple schedules miraculously avoid conflict, and I’m able to quickly deliver on each of my assignments.  Rare is the occasion when I have to tell someone I can’t help on a project.
But this week I realized that I could not continue to consistently deliver high-quality results if I kept taking on new tasks.  I began to feel a bit depressed, even borderline disengaged.  I had stretched myself so thin that my autonomy was being sacrificed just to make good on my commitments.  I knew I had to stop taking on new tasks—at least for a short while (says the job addict).
To be honest, I used to purposefully avoid telling people no.  If anyone ever asked for my help, I jumped at the opportunity—even if I knew I couldn’t possibly take on more tasks without sacrificing timeliness or end-product quality.  I’ve since learned my limits—that’s the first step.
Here are two simple ways to avoid burnout:

    1. Know your limits.  No one can give 200 percent all of the time; like most things, our energy ebbs and flows (I maintain a consistent caffeine intake throughout the day—I’ll probably need to buy an IV soon).  Being able to identify the physiological signals that we’re about to crash and burn is critical.  How does the saying go?  “The straw that broke the camel’s back . . .”
    2. Be bold enough to say no.  One of the most common workplace weaknesses is people pleasing.  Some of us are prone to accepting any task, regardless of scope and current workload, in an effort to maintain positive working relationships with peers and superiors.  But relationships can thrive, if not become stronger, even when we have to say no.  Of course, we don’t want to brand ourselves as duty shirkers; our bad-news delivery will have to be done tactfully.

Today I came into work refreshed, reengaged, and with a renewed sense of hope for the week.  Because I avoided burnout, I was able to return to work in a positive state of mind.  Every company wants its employees to start each work week on a positive note.  Companies need to provide an environment conducive to engagement; employees need to choose engagement, not burnout.
Related Post: Job Burnout: 3 Ways to Re-Engage Employees
Related Post: Job Burnout: The Employee Engagement Killer
Related Post: Employees that Quit and Stay

How Disengaged Employees Could be Sabotaging Your Company’s Success

What comes to mind when you hear the word “sabotage?” Dark-cloaked spies lurking amongst shadowed enclaves?  James Bond detonating a strategically placed explosive device, just seconds after making his escape from a secured facility?  Hackers introducing malicious content into the launch sequence codes of a nuclear missile?   Great for Hollywood, but a little farfetched for those of us in the everyday workplace.

Despite the unlikelihood of any of the above taking place in a workplace near you, many would be surprised to learn that sabotage is actually a fairly common occurrence in today’s workplace.

Sabotage?  In my Company?  No way!

The origins of the word “sabotage” are questionable, but most sources seem to point back to similar backgrounds.  In the 14th-16th centuries, French and Dutch workers found that they could stop the mills and textile looms by throwing a wooden shoe—a “sabot”—into the cogs of the machinery.  Doing so would either shut down production completely, or would cause the cogs to break over time.  Therefore, a discontent worker could seek revenge by “sabotaging” a very expensive piece of machinery, thus shutting down production.

Pretty devious, right?  But does that happen today?

Sabotage can take two forms—active and passive sabotage.  To simplify these two terms, think of active sabotage as doing something you shouldn’t be doing which causes harm to the organization.  Passive sabotage is not doing something you should be doing, which thereby harms the organization.

For an amusing experience, take a look at the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, created in 1944 by the US Government Office of Strategic Services.  As the precursor to the CIA, the Strategic Services Office created the manual to give ordinary citizens of other countries a guide that they could use to disrupt their countries’ wartime policies towards the US.  It’s interesting to see how so many of these concepts relate to active and passive sabotage in organizations today.

A few instructions from the 1944 Simple Sabotage Field Manual:

  1. Managers and Supervisors—To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  2. Employees—Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do, instead of a big one.
  3. Organizations and Conferences—When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Telephone—At office, hotel, and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  5. Transportation—Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

Humorous, but many of these forms of sabotage sound familiar—even today!

Engaged employees are actively contributing to the success of the organization.  Disengaged employees sabotage the organization’s progress.  Sometimes, this is active sabotage.  A disengaged employee may intentionally cause harm to the organization.  We find, however, that this is fairly uncommon: less than 4% of employees are actively disengaged, according to our DecisionWise research.

Quite common is the employee that commits “passive sabotage” in the organization.  These are those employees, for example, who may not report a quality concern when it’s noticed, go the extra mile for the customer, help in training the new guy, or remain attentive in meetings.  It may be the person who simply doesn’t seem to care about anything beyond doing what’s required, and then clocking out.  Our DecisionWise Employee Engagement research has found that roughly 28% of employees fit into this category.  They are those we refer to as the “Opportunity Group.”

“Sabotage” may seem like a harsh word to use, but it’s an appropriate one, nonetheless.  Merriam-Webster defines sabotage as “an act or process tending to hurt or to hamper.”  Wouldn’t, then, a disengaged employee fit this definition?
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: Are Employees Really that Disengaged in Their Jobs?
Related Webinar: Inside the Mind of a Disengaged Employee
Related Post: Profiles of the Fully Engaged, Fence-sitter, and Disengaged Employees
Related Post: The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling!

Telecommuting and Engagement: Evaluating the Tradeoff between Autonomy and Connection

Telecommuting is defined as working from home at least one hour per week; therefore, some people probably don’t even realize they’re telecommuting. Looking at telecommuting from an employee-engagement standpoint offers some interesting insights behind companies’ recent movement to promote face-time amongst all employees.

First of all, it’s important to note that, in order to be “engaged” in one’s work, one must have basic needs met—compensation, safety, respect, etc.  That goes without saying, and we call these “satisfaction factors.”  They don’t particularly excite an employee, but when they’re not in place, that individual quickly becomes dissatisfied.  It’s a form of contract between employer and employee—you provide me with “X” and I provide you with “Y.”  Engagement, on the other hand, involves a choice to give one’s discretionary effort, often above what is “contracted” for.

Our research has shown that there are key contributing factors to employee engagement.  We use the acronym ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® as a quick reminder of these factors: Meaning; Autonomy; Growth; Impact; Connection.

But here’s an interesting polarity.  With the recent notoriety associated with telecommuting, two of these factors appear to be at odds—Autonomy and Connection.  The issue: Does offering telecommuting improve levels of autonomy?  Similarly, does limiting telecommuting increase levels of connection?

Autonomy—From an engagement standpoint, autonomy is the empowerment of individuals to control or shape career/professional dynamics associated with responsibility and environment.  Employees who work from home should, therefore (in theory, at least), have incredibly high levels of autonomy.  Why?  Because they directly control their environment, processes, and deliverables associated with their employment—much more so than they would by working at the corporate office.

Working entirely at the corporate office can still provide high levels of autonomy. Companies like Google, Skullcandy, and Apple encourage (or require) employees to devote part of their time to working on a personal, self-directed project.  This stipulation clearly promotes autonomy, while still maintaining connection between employees.

Connection—We observe instances of connection when employees develop relationships of trust and respect with their colleagues and companies (including their manager, peer, and direct reports) that enable and motivate them to collaborate, resolve conflict, innovate, and develop themselves, others, and the organization.  Many have argued (accurately, I might add) that working from home severely limits an employee’s ability to develop any significant levels of connection.

Even with tools like Google+ hangouts, Skype, email, and LinkedIn, developing relationships of trust and respect is difficult to do unless face-to-face time exists.  While telecommuting can establish professional levels of trust and respect, only social interaction can develop strong relationships between employees.  Connection is strongest when an employee feels that they can be themselves around people; their peers, colleagues, and supervisors have their back, and they are liked and appreciated.

With this evaluation in mind, we can easily see how levels of autonomy are bolstered when employees are allowed to telecommute for a significant amount of their work.  Likewise, we observe how limiting telecommuting yields positive effects on connection.

Which aspect is more important?  Naturally, every worker will value these factors differently.  I’d venture to say the introverted employee values autonomy just as highly as the extroverted employee values connection.  Is the solution really as simple as distinguishing between personality types?
5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper